Alan Parsons, who has lived in Santa Barbara for more than a decade, has many claims to fame. He was the engineer on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, assistant engineer on The Beatles’ Abbey Road and even got a mention in the Austin Powers movie The Spy Who Shagged Me, in which Dr. Evil called his giant laser developed by “noted Cambridge physicist Dr. Parsons” the “Alan Parsons Project.”
Parsons’ artistic vision was most fully realized in the real Alan Parsons Project, which released some of the best progressive rock albums of the late 1970s and early 1980s. These were studio tours de force, with the songs of Parsons and musical partner Eric Woolfson based around album-long concepts and orchestrated with a rich mix of traditional instruments and electronics.
Many of the classic Alan Parsons Project songs were on the program on Saturday night at the Lobero Theatre, where the Alan Parsons Live Project headlined an amazing benefit concert for the United Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Barbara County.
But even before Parsons took the stage the evening was a triumph, with a stellar opening set by David Pack, the former lead singer and guitarist for the band Ambrosia. Pack, who accompanied himself on acoustic guitar and keyboards, has a very strong, versatile voice that nailed the blue-eyed soul of “You’re the Only Woman” and “Biggest Part of Me,” plus the early Ambrosia hits “Nice, Nice, Very Nice” (in which he changed the lyrics to include “Alan Parsons in a Pink Floyd trance”), “Holdin’ on to Yesterday” (after which he said “thank God that I can still sing some of those high notes”) and the ballad “How Much I Feel” (which Ambrosia almost didn’t release because they feared that it was too sappy for an aspiring prog rock band).
Pack also sang “All I Need,” a No. 1 hit for soap opera star Jack Wagner that Pack co-wrote at the behest of Quincy Jones. He told the audience that the genesis of the song came after a day of failed songwriting while co-writer Glen Ballard was visiting the men’s room.
Also on the program was “Our Love” in honor of friend and co-writer Michael McDonald, and covers of songs by The Beatles (“Every Little Thing”) and The Who (“Pinball Wizard”), the latter in honor of bassist John Entwistle with whom Pack toured a decade ago in a Beatles tribute band that also included Parsons.
Parsons and gang — P.J. Olsson on vocals, Santa Barbara local Alastair Greene on guitar, Guy Erez on bass, Danny Thompson on drums, Manny Focarazzo on keyboards and Todd Cooper on saxophone and vocals — kicked off their extraordinary portion of the evening with the hypnotic prog rock instrumental “I Robot.” This quickly put to rest any doubts that the live band would do justice to the rich sound of the Alan Parsons Projects’ studio recordings.
The band played two other superb songs from the 1977 I Robot album: “Breakdown” and “I Wouldn’t Want to Be Like You,” the latter of which was nicely sung by Greene, who used to work at the Lobero Theatre and was a member at the Boys & Girls Clubs in his younger days.
There were also two powerfully executed tracks — “The Raven” and “(The System of) Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether” — from my and, as it turns out, Parsons’ favorite Alan Parsons Project album, Tales of Mystery and Imagination from 1976, which is based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Liner notes nerds such as myself know that Pack and the rest of Ambrosia played on the original studio version on “The Raven,” although he didn’t join in for this live version. But Pack did sing the cool later period song “Oh Life (There Must Be More).” (More liner note trivia: Parsons mixed Ambrosia’s first album and produced their second.)
The brilliant 1980 album Turn of a Friendly Card was very well represented, and arguably provided the evening’s two highlights. First was the dreamy “Time,” sung masterfully, movingly and magically by Olsson. Second was the “Turn of a Friendly Card” extended suite of songs, including the highlight within a highlight of “Nothing Left to Lose” sung by Parsons. This album also provided the rocking concert closer “Games People Play,” for which Pack returned.
The later classic period of the Alan Parsons Project was nicely represented by “Sirius” (which I can’t hear without thinking of the world champion Chicago Bulls — yeah baby!), “Prime Time,” “Don’t Answer Me” and “Eye in the Sky.”
Speaking of eyes in the sky, the huge concert backdrop based on the Eye in the Sky album cover was auctioned off for $2,000 to benefit the Boys & Girls Clubs. Signed guitars by Parsons and one by the band Journey, which recently passed through town, were also auctioned off.
Mr. Parsons and Mr. Pack, the boys, girls and prog rock fans of Santa Barbara, thank you for a great evening of music for a great cause.
Setlist for David Pack
Every Little Thing (The Beatles)
Nice, Nice, Very Nice
Holdin’ On to Yesterday
You’re the Only Woman
Life Beyond L.A.
All I Need
Pinball Wizard (The Who)
How Much I Feel
A Brand New Start
Biggest Part of Me
Setlist for Alan Parsons
Damned If I Do
Don’t Answer Me
Oh Life (There Must Be More)
I Wouldn’t Want to Be Like You
La Sagrada Familia
Don’t Let It Show
(The System of) Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether
The Turn of a Friendly Card (Part One)
The Ace of Swords
Nothing Left to Lose
The Turn of a Friendly Card (Part Two)
Eye in the Sky
Old and Wise
Games People Play
— Noozhawk contributing writer Jeff Moehlis is a professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.